Top prosecutor Tom Wine: Allegation he wants all-white juries is - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Top prosecutor Tom Wine: Allegation he wants all-white juries is 'absolutely false'

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Tom Wine speaks to WDRB Nov. 23, 2015. Tom Wine speaks to WDRB Nov. 23, 2015.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For the first time since a local judge accused him of trying to ensure Jefferson County felony trials have “all-white” juries, Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine spoke out Monday, calling the allegations against him and his office “absolutely false.”

“We not only are not trying to seat all-white juries, we appreciate the value of having diversity in the juries," said Wine, a former circuit court and appeals court judge. "We are absolutely not trying in any way to do what is alleged in this case."

Wine had strong words for Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens, who has taken to Facebook repeatedly in the last month to question whether the top prosecutor and his staff were trying to keep black citizens off juries.

“I can’t begin to imagine what went on to create this animosity,” Wine said of the Facebook postings. “I’ve worked with judges for 35 years and I’ve never had this type of response to the work I do.”

Wine singled out a recent Facebook post where Stevens asked local activists and officials to come to court and support him and called the actions by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and media a “public lynching.”

“There are certain words that are used for one reason and one reason only, and that is to engender animosity towards the party that you are making that accusation about,” Wine said. “I just can’t understand how anybody can think that those comments don’t show bias toward me and our office.”

But while his office has asked Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton to remove Stevens from all criminal cases because of alleged bias shown on Facebook, Wine signaled that his office could work with the judge again, under certain conditions.

“I don’t want to see Judge Stevens off (criminal cases) forever,” Wine said. “I would love to see Judge Stevens doing his job as a judge in criminal and civil cases. The ball is in his court."

To earn what Wine called a “second chance,” Stevens would need to take down his posts and “perhaps tell his Facebook followers he was wrong to make those comments. I’m not asking that he apologize to me personally. But I think to the community, he owes them an apology.”

Stevens has not spoken with the media but has not given any indication he is backing down, posting on Facebook over the weekend that he was “proud” and thankful to about 100 people who rallied in front of the courthouse Friday.

Stevens’ Facebook postings came after a WDRB story last month reporting that Wine had asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether the judge was abusing his power by dismissing a jury because he felt it was lacking enough black people.

Stevens has written on Facebook that Wine was going to the Kentucky Supreme Court to “protect the right to impanel all-white juries” and that “is not what we need to be in 2015. Do not sit silently. Stand up. Speak up.”

In an interview Monday, Wine said he ignored the Facebook posts for weeks, hoping the judge would stop posting after he had vented about the issue.

"We finally said enough is enough," Wine said. "It just kept getting radically worse."

Wine said his office is not fighting for the right to seat all-white juries but to “preserve the right to juries selected in accordance with the law.”

The issue actually arose a little over a year ago, on Nov. 18, 2014. After a 13-member jury chosen for a theft trial ended up with no black jurors, Stevens found it “troublesome” and dismissed the panel at the request of a defense attorney.

“There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man,” Stevens said, according to a video of the trial. “I cannot in good conscience go forward with this jury.”

A new jury panel was called up the next day. 

Wine said Monday that prosecutors had not struck any black jurors from that case. Stevens then dismissed a jury panel last month for the same reason.

The Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and Kentucky's Office of the Attorney General asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to look at the issue and see if Stevens has the authority to dismiss jury panels because of a lack of minorities. The high court has agreed to hear arguments.

Wine said he is not in “opposition with Judge Stevens on racial diversity. I support that.”

But he said the Kentucky Supreme Court needs to decide if it is legal for a judge to dismiss a jury based on the lack of minorities. Dismissing a group of jurors who have already heard about the case could be problematic, Wine said, possibly tainting other jurors in the pool. 

"We are not trying to eliminate African-Americans from serving," Wine said. "We are just trying to make sure that when a panel is properly selected, that panel can go forward,"

However, many in the community have praised Judge Stevens for attacking a long-standing problem in the courts - juries that don't represent the community.

Minorities long have been being underrepresented on local juries. Several black defendants have complained over the years that they were convicted by an all-white jury - not of their peers.

The Racial Fairness Commission -- a group made up of local judges, lawyers and citizens -- has studied the issue for years, monitored the make-up of jury panels and found them consistently lacking in minorities.

For example, in October, 14 percent of potential jurors were black, far below the estimated 21 percent for all residents of Jefferson County, according to records kept by the commission. In September, 13 percent of potential Jefferson County jurors were black.

On Friday, about 100 people, including Stevens’ wife, held a rally outside the courthouse in support of the judge – and critical of Wine.

Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green, a former prosecutor, said at the rally that “discussions about Facebook are a distraction from the real issue," which is a defendant getting a jury of his or her peers.

Some in the crowd called for Wine to quit.

He dismissed that idea quickly on Monday, saying he had “no intention of resigning” and asking citizens to look more closely at the request his office has made to the Supreme Court.

Wine, a member of the Racial Fairness Commission, said the issue needs to be attacked through the system - like raising the amount jurors are paid and ensuring that everyone subpoenaed for jury duty actually shows up.

Currently, Wine's office has asked Kentucky Chief Justice John Minton to recuse Stevens from all cases pending before the judge, arguing he has shown bias against Wine in Facebook posts.

Minton -- who removed Stevens from two cases at the request of prosecutors last week -- will not make a decision until next week on whether to disqualify Stevens from all his criminal cases, according to Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“Given its potential impact on the dockets in Jefferson Circuit Court, Chief Justice Minton would like to take some time to consider the matter before making a decision,” she said in a statement.

Stevens has refused recuse himself from criminal cases that came before him, claiming he could be impartial despite his disagreement with Wine. He has not handled any cases since Wednesday. Circuit Court Judge James Shake handled some of Stevens' cases on Monday.

Last week, Minton removed Stevens from two cases after the judge had refused similar requests to step aside. Minton ruled prosecutors had "demonstrated disqualifying circumstances that require the appointment of a special judge."

If Stevens is recused from presiding over criminal cases, it is likely he would continue to handle civil suits while other judges took over his criminal docket.

In the interview with WDRB, Wine said he hoped a resolution could be reached with Judge Stevens that would allow the two sides to work with each other again.

“I would hope Judge Stevens that would have a change of heart and recognize that this is a proper procedure for us to go through,” Wine said.

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